Restaurant chef Matt Prentice embarks on a quest to reinvent hospital food

Kate Lawson / The Detroit News

Matt Prentice has had numerous successful ventures since he first began
in the restaurant business 30 years ago. From his esteemed restaurants
including Coach Insignia in Detroit, Northern Lakes Seafood in
Bloomfield Hills, and No.VI Chop House in Novi — to his Oakland County
delis, Plaza Deli and Deli Unique — Prentice is also Michigan’s
largest privately held caterer.

But according to the 50-year-old
chef, nothing is as important as the project he’s been working on for
the past two years in conjunction with the new Henry Ford West
Bloomfield Hospital.

“I’m going to revolutionize hospital food,” says Prentice, the new hospital’s culinary director. “I’m using food to heal.”

dining, let alone healthy dining, is not what comes to mind at the
mention of hospital food, but Prentice is determined to create the
healthiest, highest quality and tastiest food in health care for not
only the patients, but also for the public in the new cafeteria,

It’s all part of Henry Ford CEO Gerard van Grinsven’s
goal to change the health-care experience. “We’ve created a center for
well being that is in the lap of innovation,” he says. When the doors
of the new $360-million state-of-the art facility open in mid-March,
this newest member of the Henry Ford Hospital family will be a stunning
combination of a northern Michigan resort meets wellness center with
lots of brick and wood and soothing views of nature. The building was
designed by Albert Kahn Associates of Detroit to appeal to all the
senses for a complete wellness experience.

And, unlike any other
hospital in the country, it will offer a variety of amenities,
including healthy cooking classes in a state-of-the-art demo kitchen
for patients and the community; a wellness center where services such
as acupuncture, yoga, massage and water therapy will be provided;
specialty shops offering a variety of health-related products; and
gourmet, healthy food offerings for staff, visitors and patients, who
will be able to order specially prepared meals via room service.

Ford is not the first local hospital to offer in-room service dining.
Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn has been offering its patients in-room
service meals since 2001 from their regular menu, but Prentice is going
beyond standard hospital fare.

To create the new menu for the
hospital’s cafeteria, set to open in February, Prentice gathered his
corporate chefs, pastry chefs and artisan bakers from his Matt Prentice
Restaurant group. The menu will feature soups and salads; made-to-order
deli sandwiches; Asian, including rice and noodle bowls, sushi and stir
fries; Italian, including pastas and pizzas; international (Greek,
Middle Eastern, Spanish, African); American; and bread and desserts
based on his healthy, healing program.

“There will be seven
stations, featuring all the dishes my staff has created,” says
Prentice. “It’s the best work my team has ever done. We will offer
kosher, halal, organic, whole grains, vegetarian, gluten-free, and
there will be nothing fried; there won’t be a fryer in our kitchen.
We’ll have juices and teas, and even the snacks available in the
hospital will be designed around an organic lifestyle.”

Another innovation that Prentice can boast of is an ever-evolving menu for patients.

hospital has the same menu year-round,” says Prentice. “But ours will
be changing every two weeks. That’s unheard of in the hospital

Hotelier changes health care

Van Grinsven says he knew what he wanted in developing this latest innovation in health care — and he wanted Prentice.

the old days, medicine was food,” says van Grinsven, who before joining
the hospital in 2006, served as vice president of the Ritz-Carlton

“Today food is killing us,” he says. “Our goal is to take health and healing beyond the boundaries of imagination.

Ford West Bloomfield will be a place for everybody, not just those who
are ill but those who want to learn to start living a better life.”

Grinsven also is proud of the hospital’s partnership with Schoolcraft
College in Livonia to create the first hospital culinary learning
institute in the world. “This will bring additional revenue to the area
as students from across the country will come to spend a week learning
about this new industry of healthy hospital food,” he says.

has done this before,” adds Sven Gierlinger, hospitality services
director. “We are working with several of the community schools and
their apprentice programs.” Chefs from Schoolcraft College, including
Certified Master Chef Jeff Gabriel, will be conducting cooking demos,
as will chef Kelli Lewton-Secondino.

“You can feel the healing
energy of the place,” says Lewton-Secondino, chef/owner of Pure Food 2
U in Royal Oak, which focuses on organics. “We’re going to be teaching
people how to take food back. Hopefully we will be raising a whole
generation of kids who’ll have the opportunity to eat real food.”

Big undertaking

corporate chef, Frank Turner, who’s been with restaurant group for 15
years, will serve as executive chef of Henry Ford West Bloomfield, and
Turner says he’s excited about the prospect of creating 800-1,000
lunches and 500-600 dinners daily.

“It’s our chance to do something good, and Henry Ford has the ability to change the world of health-care food,” says Turner.

Prentice is quick to point out that the food service at the new hospital will not be any more costly than at any other hospital.

on the same budget, Prentice says he’s using his business experience
and “culinary ingenuity” to keep costs down while bringing organic
fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods to the Henry Ford
community. Local farms that practice sustainable agriculture will
supply much of the produce, and greenhouses on the West Bloomfield
Township property will provide additional food for the hospital

“We’ll save money because we will eliminate waste,”
says Prentice, who often worked into the wee hours on kitchen
blueprints and menus. Because it had never been done before, he
literally wrote the book on how to revolutionize hospital feeding,
creating recipes and even working with an herbalist to design healing

“Chefs aren’t taught how to cook to heal, they cook to please,” says Prentice. “I knew I could do both.”